A DIAMOND IN MUSIC — As a teenage metalhead, I viewed pin-up bands like Duran Duran as the enemy. But as an adult, I have come to embrace their stylish, funky pop music in all its hook-laden glory. Ever since their 2004 reunion album, Astronaut, the “Fab Five” keep getting better and better. The third studio release of this cycle, All You Need Is Now is one of the best pop albums of recent years, siphoning from their glorious ’80s heyday while toying with new ideas. A Diamond In The Mind is the live document from that tour, recorded in Manchester, England. The 95-minute concert on Blu-ray and DVD encompasses everything from early hits like “Planet Earth” and “Rio,” to recent gems like “The Man Who Stole A Leopard” and “Blame The Machines” (which the audience takes to quite well). The band looks and sounds great, and while the visual effects and some black-and-white shots are occasionally distracting, this concert is full of energy. It’s a keeper.
BLOWING THEIR MINDS — I have a soft spot for early ’80s sci-fi, having grown up appreciating the post-Lucas and Spielberg explosion of movies with a sense of wonder, glossy effects and sometimes radical ideas. Many are now having their Blu-ray debuts.
Ken Russell’s Altered States, inspired by the book from Network scribe Paddy Chayefsky, finds scientist William Hurt using drug-fueled isolation tank immersion to regress to our primitive past—although his marriage to the gorgeous Blair Brown goes awry—and it actually starts transforming his genetic material. This is fun, freaky stuff full of phantasmagorical imagery that will linger in your noggin.
Brainstorm also deals with altered forms of consciousness as scientists Christopher Walken and Louise Fletcher develop technology that allows one person to record their real-life events on tape—everything from riding a rollercoaster to having sex—and then another experience them. (Talk about home movies—it’s the predecessor to Strange Days.) Naturally some grade-A military assholes want to use this new headset device for war applications, which creates one of the film’s central conflicts. Directed by Douglas Trumbull (one of the special effects gurus behind 2001: A Space Odyssey), the film was shot in two aspect ratios—35mm widescreen for real-life scenes and 70mm widescreen when someone is using the headpiece. The film looks eye-popping on Blu-ray after the passable DVD version.
Trivia nugget: the above two films have the exact same type of denouement and final line.
Finally, on the opposite end of things, is Peter Hyams’ Outland, which is a variation on High Noon but in outer space and translated into an Alien-like corporate future. Sean Connery plays a principled marshal trying to single-handedly stop the drug trade on a mining colony on the Jupiter moon of Io, and it doesn’t make him too popular, especially with many miners who get high to work harder and snare bigger bonuses. This was the first R-rated movie I ever saw, and the exploding heads (of astronauts exposed to space atmosphere) freaked me out. It’s still awesome.
SILENT SCREAMS — Billed as a terror tale in one take—it’s obviously a few great ones edited together, but who cares—the edgy Silent House stars Elizabeth Olsen as a young woman helping her father pack up her childhood home for sale. Right from the start, things seem tweaked—the shuttered, frequently vandalized house that is dark even in the day; her stern, 40ish father squabbling with her creepy uncle; a visit from a vaguely remembered childhood friend that unnerves her. As the evening progresses, a faceless intruder enters the house, murders her father and locks her in for a game of cat-and-mouse. Things go downhill from there. This film has divided genre fans and critics not necessarily for its tense buildup but the climactic turn. Regardless, the intense Olsen commands the screen—take that, Mary-Kate and Ashley—even in spite of an unnecessarily low-cut top that emphasizes her busty figure.
SISTER ACT — The final part of a Hammer Films trilogy inspired by the 19th century, pre-Dracula vampire tale Carmilla, Twins Of Evil is linked thematically but not chronologically to its two predecessors. Peter Cushing steals the spotlight as a pious witch hunter who must take care of his hot twin nieces (Playboy centerfolds Mary and Madeleine Collinson) after their father dies. While one sister is a goody two-shoes, the other wants to party with the local vampire Count Karnstein, which sets off a fateful showdown between her evil, lusty lover and her twisted uncle. The twins certainly steam up the screen (their voices were allegedly dubbed), and Cushing’s powerful performance and the stylish sets and cinematography win out over some of the clichés of the early ‘70s, including obviously fake blood and exaggerated vampire movements.
SYFY SWAN SONGS — Two beloved Syfy shows recently ended their runs rather unceremoniously; their final seasons are collected now on home video with bonus features. Sanctuary actually finished Season Four with some resolution, but fans were anticipating a fifth which never came. But at least we got four years of Abnormal hunting adventures, with Amanda Tapping and Robin Dunne’s chemistry at the heart of the show. Eureka actually had an extended Season Five that ironically still forced writers to wrap up the series and its wacky scientist shenanigans in far less time than they had anticipated; the expected short Season Six never came. Perhaps the best way to look at both farewells is that we got to experience several seasons apiece. Stuff like this rarely lasts on network TV.
AZITA GHANIZADA: LIFE WITH ALPHAS
Part of Syfy’s recent wave of new hit shows is Alphas, about a team of super powered humans working within the Defense Criminal Investigation Service of the U.S. Department Of Defense as they investigate crimes that point to others with Alpha abilities. The alluring Azita Ghanizada plays a former CIA linguist with super enhanced senses named Rachel who is a “synesthete” that can enhance one sense at the temporary cost of her other senses. With Alphas Season One out now, and the second season commencing, Ghanizada has had quite an adventure in the last year.
“It’s been intense,” she concurred. “Last season was one of the greatest experiences of my life because of the cast, the crew and the writers. It’s such a collaborative effort. We are working 16 to 18 hour days in damp, dark, heat, dust, cold, mold, running in high heels. I’ve got to jump into a pool next week. I’ve got to really do some acting underwater. The funny thing is it doesn’t matter—you can keep me there for 18 hours, we all show up with a smile on her face. The cast loves each other, the crew loves each other.”
As she spoke to the Aquarian at a red carpet event, her co-star Warren Christie was watching her speak behind her. “Is fancy pants over here making little faces at me?” she joked. “Look at him, Princess. He’s such a princess this one. I call him and Malik [Yoba] my princesses because they get stunt people, and a lot of the time Laura [Mennell] and I run our own sequences in heels and then with the stunt guys, then we do it with the guys. And they get to sit it out—I’m like, wimps. Wimps! Do this in high heels!”
Kidding aside, Ghanizada feels that Alphas gained steam throughout its first season. “Overall, I think the show got its legs in episodes nine through the finale, when you saw Brent Spiner come in. J. Miller Tobin directed a great episode where we all became a family. You saw us work together and bond. You finally saw how we connected as a family. Now with the second season, we’re even closer, if that makes any sense. There’s no attitude. It’s a real cast of character actors. I mean, I play a nerd!”